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Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007

Fukuda meets, apologizes to hepatitis C victims


Staff writer

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Tuesday met with — and apologized to — representatives of people who contracted hepatitis C through tainted blood products and are now suing the government and drug makers.

News photo
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda bows in apology to people infected with hepatitis C through tainted blood products during a meeting at his official residence Tuesday. AP PHOTO

"You all must have suffered physically and mentally for a long time," Fukuda said during the meeting with four patients at his official residence. "I would like to take this occasion to apologize (to you) from the bottom of my heart."

The meeting came two days after Fukuda overrode the government's decision and a court proposal to announce that the Liberal Democratic Party, which he heads, and its ruling coalition partner New Komeito would draft legislation to pay uniform compensation to everyone who contracted hepatitis C through the contaminated products.

The bill is expected to be submitted to the current extraordinary Diet session, which runs through Jan. 15.

"We realized that we couldn't aid everyone within the framework" of the Osaka High Court's settlement proposal, Fukuda said. "To respond to your earnest feelings, we decided that there was no other way but to exceed the boundaries of the judiciary and administration and to take legislative measures."

But according to Michiko Yamaguchi, one of the plaintiffs who met with Fukuda, he failed to say whether he intended to clarify the government's responsibility in the planned legislation.

"We told (Fukuda) that to truly provide relief to all of us, (he) needs to include" a reference to the government's responsibility for the mass infections, Yamaguchi said after the meeting.

Unless the government's responsibility is clarified, the nation cannot ensure there will be no recurrence of similar medical disasters, she said.

Yamaguchi also said she was disappointed that the victims were not given the opportunity to hear Fukuda's stance on this problem or how he intended to resolve it as the nation's leader.

Fukuda said Monday that the government, as the approver of pharmaceutical products, "bears moral and other responsibilities" for the mass infections, although he added the matter will be discussed further within the ruling bloc.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura suggested at a news conference earlier in the day that the bill would refer to the government's responsibility in some way, in line with remarks by Fukuda on Monday.

Fukuda's announcement to craft a ruling coalition-initiated bill came after the plaintiffs expressed their intention last week to break off the court-mediated negotiations for a settlement because the government rejected their proposal for uniform compensation for all patients.

Information from Kyodo added



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